The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the biggest change in Drag Race history since “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 9, when the show moved to VH1 from Logo TV, aired episodes late March instead of late February, the introduction of Top 4 in the finale, the Russian roulette-style ladder elimination bracket lip-syncs, a dedicated episode for the reunion and the absence Mathu Andersen.
A virtual finale and lip-sync may sound very drastic, but up until season 3, Drag Race finale were all filmed in-studio and not in front of a live audience in an auditorium. When Raja was crowned that season, except for the crew, there were only four people who witnessed her victory in person — Santino Rice, Michelle Visage, Manila Luzon and RuPaul himself. Alexis Mateo was eliminated and off-stage so she didn’t witness that. A finale lip-sync is almost like a formality, until season 9 where they had to battle it out to move to the final two spot.
Drag Race has stuck to its regular programming schedules, with “RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race” , “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” season 5, and “Canada’s Drag Race” season 1 airing as scheduled despite the pandemic. “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” season 5 moved back to VH1 instead of the new network, Showtime due to the pandemic. But it remains to be seen with Drag Race season 13. Casting call for the new season started last December on the 3rd, it closed January 24th, just when the pandemic was escalating.
The show usually films around summer. Even with easing of restrictions, it’s still not safe for the cast and crew to film like in the old days. Filming in the Werk Room could be disastrous for everyone involved. With over 1.5 million infected and deaths nearing one hundred thousand in the U.S., the safest thing for the show to do is postpone.
Could 2020 be the year the show goes on hiatus? Some fans and alums have expressed being overwhelmed by back-to-back Drag Race, coupled with spin-offs, DragCon NYC, LA and UK — only the UK was held as planned on January 18-19, US DragCon 2020 were both cancelled — and a flood of shows from other production companies and networks banking on Drag Race alums (HBO, Netflix to name a few), not to mention global franchise in Thailand, UK and Canada airing their own seasons (but globally watched), is franchise fatigue taking root? However, this Drag Race phenomenon won’t last forever. Striking while the iron is hot maybe prudent, but it comes with its own risks. “Drag Race UK” season 2 already halted production due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Speaking of hiatus, where in the world is RuPaul? Mother Fierce has always been active on her social media channels, that is, up until mid-March, when the pandemic took a foothold worldwide and the start of stay home and lockdowns as a precautionary measure to stop the spread of the virus. RuPaul’s activity on social media stopped mid-March — March 19 on Instagram and March 28 on Twitter. The last episode of “RuPaul What’s The T? with Michelle Visage” was March 15.
Michelle Visage is still active on social media. As of this writing, she’s busy promoting on Twitter merch on her PostMate and she just pitched a virtual gay marriage service for Pride month, being an ordained minister. She recently filmed a pilot for her brand new show in the UK, “Get Off Your Ass” .
But what about RuPaul? He does have a ranch in the countryside with husband Georges LeBar. It’s probably the safest place to be for them during this pandemic. It’s almost certain RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 filming will be postponed until it’s safe to do so. Resuming production without a COVID-19 vaccine could spell trouble for everyone involved, especially with some of the cast and crew belonging to the high-risk category, including RuPaul.
The hiatus could be the “breathing time” fans has been asking for. With re-runs available on on-demand streaming service, like Netflix, WOW Plus and WOW’s YouTube channel, and with over twelve seasons in store, plus “RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked“, anyone missing the show can simply ru-watch whenever. The most important thing is, everyone involved in the show’s production is safe, so when the pandemic is over they can continue producing this amazing series.